MARTINSVILLE, VA. (WGHP) – NASCAR returned to its oldest venue this weekend as the Martinsville Speedway has celebrated its 75th birthday. The party, though, has been going on for weeks.
Civic leaders, NASCAR officials and even a King – aka Richard Petty – have made appearances at the track they call The Paperclip, a .526-mile oval where cars bump and grind as drivers pursue a grandfather clock, which is perhaps the most unusual trophy a winner receives in any sport.
Martinsville conducted its first race in 1949, a full decade before Bill France staged the first Daytona 500 on a speedway – they were on the beach before then. Lee Petty, The King’s father, won that race.
When Martinsville was part of the original NASCAR circuit – called the Strictly Stock Series – there were seven other races, including Charlotte, a Daytona Beach road course and the season finale in North Wilkesboro.
Martinsville Speedway was opened in 1947 by H. Clay Earles and has had races every year since. The track will be host to the next-to-final races in the NASCAR playoffs on the weekend of Oct. 30. Earles’ grandson, Clay Campbell, runs the track these days, although it is owned by NASCAR.
For the record, there are three races at the speedway this weekend: William Byron won the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200 in the Truck Series on Thursday night, and the Call 811 Before You Dig 250 Powered by Call811.com race on the Xfinity circuit is tonight. The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 in the Cup Series is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
One cool thing about tonight’s race is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be back behind the wheel for the first time since 2017. He won the Cup Series race there in 2014.
There are a lot of other cool things about Martinsville Speedway. Here are a few of them.
Who won the first NASCAR race at Martinsville?
After a NASCAR Modified race on July 4, 1948, Red Byron took the checkered flag in a Strictly Stock Division race on Sept. 25, 1949. The race didn’t have a name or a sponsor listed, but it was the sixth race of the series that came to be known as the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing. Byron was driving an Oldsmobile and led 97 of the 200 laps. Lee Petty finished second, and pole-sitter Curtis Turner finished ninth. There were only two lead changes, and the average speed wasn’t recorded. Byron, who drove for Parks Novelty in 1949, also won at Daytona that year and competed in six of the eight races. Before dying in 1960 at age 45, he had 58 career races and won 13 times. He also was on the podium in nearly half his races (which must mean top 3).
Who is the biggest name in Martinsville racing?
There have been many star turns on the track, but the biggest legacy of the speedway is closely aligned with Glen Wood, who came out of nearby Stuart. Glen – in some places his name is spelled “Glenn” – drove on the beach in Daytona and went on to win four races on the circuit. He retired as a driver in 1964, and he and his brother, Leonard, became team owners and sponsors of the highly successful No. 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing. They’ve won 99 times. Glen Wood’s name also adorns a tower at the west end of the Martinsville Speedway, and the team has a museum in Stuart.
But who has won the most races there?
Well, The King is the king of Martinsville, too. Richard Petty won 15 times at The Paperclip, his first in 1960. In an 8-year span, he won 11 of 16 races. Darrell Waltrip won 11 times there, and the list of multiple winners is a NASCAR Hall of Fame lineup: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (9), Rusty Wallace (7) and Dale Earnhardt Sr., Cale Yarborough and Fred Lorenzen (6). One active driver, Denny Hamlin, could move up. He has won five times, the last in 2015. He has as second and three thirds since then, most recently in the spring race last season.
What are some dramatic moments at the Speedway?
Hamlin was involved in some histrionics last fall, in the race that set up the final four drivers in contention for NASCAR’s Cup championship. Hamlin led the race for most of the final 100 laps before Alex Bowman bumped him into the wall with seven laps to go. Bowman went on to win, and Hamlin finished 24th (such plummets in the finish are frequent on this short-track event). When Bowman was celebrating on Pit Road, Hamlin came alongside, spun his car around, pushed against Bowman’s car and began shoving it backward before Hamlin’s internal motor cooled. In 2019 Hamlin didn’t win, either, but he and Joey Logano, the defending series champion, met on the track after the race and, with their teams, got involved in a bit of a scrum, mostly talking and pushing. Neither driver had been much of a factor in the race’s outcome.
Where did that grandfather clock come from?
The grandfather clock was adopted as a trophy in 1964, with the first presented to Fred Lorenzen that September. The idea had emerged when Earles needed a trophy that was unique. Ridgeway Clocks had a factory about three miles from the track – the track actually is in the town of Ridgeway, a few miles north of the North Carolina border – and Earles reached out to the company. The clocks, which are made of hardwood and are 7 feet tall, were made at that factory until 2004 when it was bought by Howard Miller Co. of Michigan. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been in victory lane, and the first thing that’s out of a driver’s mouth when he gets out of the car, he looks at me and says, ‘Where’s my clock?” Campbell told the Danville Register & Bee in 2013. By the way, you can buy a “Ridgeway Martinsville 2505 Grandfather Clock” in several styles. It might be cheaper to enter and win the race, though.